Americans love to hate Congress and legislators often seem to ignore public views. But it turns out constituents do judge their representatives on the policies they develop and pass. Carlos Algara finds that public approval of congress is responsive to the ideological views of the majority party, making it risky to stray too far from voters. And legislators in both parties react to voter opinions, but in distinct ways. Adam Cayton finds that Republican voters judge their legislators more on their symbolic ideology whereas Democrats judge their members based on issue positions. Legislators in each party behave accordingly, responding to their constituents’ ideologies or policy views.

Guests: Carlos Algara, University of Texas at El Paso; Adam Cayton, University of West Florida 
Studies: Congressional Approval and Responsible Party Government” and “Incongruent Voting or Symbolic Representation?”

Transcript

Matt Grossmann:

How Voters Judge Congress, this week on the Science of Politics. For the Niskanen Center. I’m Matt Grossmann.

Americans love to hate Congress, but there’s actually a bit of an uptick in congressional approval. It may seem like it’s hard for legislators to satisfy voters and hard for citizens to judge what Congress is up to, but it turns out citizens do judge their members on the policies they develop and promote, the votes they take, and whether they stray too far from voters. And members in both parties do react to voter opinions, but in distinct ways.

This week, I talked to Carlos Algara of the University of Texas at El Paso about his political behavior article, Congressional Approval and Responsible Party Government. He finds that public approval of Congress is responsive to the ideological position of the majority party relative to the voters. Parties are judged on what they do. That means Democrats will be punished if they stray too far from the middle.

I also talked to Adam Cayton of the University of West Florida about his perspective on politics article with Ryan Dawkins, Incongruent Voting Or Symbolic Representation. He finds that Republican voters judge their legislators more on their symbolic ideology, whereas Democrats judge their members based on specific issue positions. Republican legislators are similarly more responsive to their district’s ideologies, whereas Democrats respond to issue views. They both find more responsiveness and more reasonable voters than you might expect.

Algara says, “Voters aren’t just partisan cheerleaders, but evaluate Congress ideologically.”

Carlos Algara:

As a scholarly community, we really don’t understand what motivates citizens perceptions of Congress. There’ve been some work suggesting that it’s partisanship, that is just a function of partisan identity. A little bit of work suggesting that it could be policy-based. And I found that gap in the literature a little bit surprising given the fact that Congress of course, is the Article I branch, it’s the chief policy making body of the country. And so I come in here really building off the literature of what parties do in Congress, what their prerogatives are, especially in this era of responsible party government. And I posited a theory that, of course, it could be partisan, right? It’s sort of this partisans teammanship, that voters really like it when their parties are in control of Congress. But I take one step back and think it could really be driven by ideological preferences and the positions of the two political parties, the majority and the minority parties.

And so in the political behavior piece, what I find is I find that citizens do assess Congress in ideological terms on the basis of policies. So if you’re a citizen and your preferences are closer to the Democratic Party, relative the Republican Party, and the Democrats are in charge, you’re going to be more likely to approve of Congress and the job performance that they’re doing. If you still have that same ideological distance, but the Republicans are in charge, you’re going to respond accordingly. You’re going to disapprove of Congress because your preferences are out of sync with what the Republican majority is going to argue for and advocate for in Congress.

And I find that this ideological component is very much distinct from partisanship, and that is even looking at within set of party, so for example, within the Republican party, Republican partisans that are closer to congressional Democrats are more likely to approve of a Democratic Congress than Republicans that are further away.

So this suggests that voters, while they do have partisan preferences, they do evaluate Congress in collective terms, but also in ideological terms. That they have the ability to assess Congress, not only as the chief policy making body of the country, but they can assess this in explicitly policy terms. And so that’s what I find using cross-sectional data from the CCS. It’s called the CES now, and I also find this in a panel of voters from 2010 to 2014, which allows me to get leverage amongst the same respondents before the 2010 Tea Party wave and then after.

Matt Grossmann:

Congress isn’t popular, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t judged rationally.

Carlos Algara:

Congress of course, has been traditionally unpopular. Over the course of my survey data, congressional approval really doesn’t rise. I think the high was about 22%, 2012, and then it really starts to crater around 2016. That was the time of government shutdowns. That was Ted Cruz infamously shutting down the government over President Obama’s refusal to repeal his own signature healthcare law. So Congress, during that period, was chronically unpopular. And I think in the literature, we think of congressional approval as just being this sort of valence item that Congress isn’t doing anything. That’s therefore, the citizens react negatively. And I think my piece tries to sort of draw a more distinct theory in terms of really giving citizens a break and saying that they’re thinking about Congress rationally and when Congress pursues policies that are away from them, they’re going to disapprove of Congress. But Congress, especially relative to the president, is still an unpopular body. But if you look at the recent Pew data, it’s coming up a little bit. So there’s a little bit of hope.

Matt Grossmann:

Cayton and Dawkins. We’re trying to understand a related puzzle. Republicans don’t vote with their district opinion as often and voters don’t seem to care.

Adam Cayton:

The evidence is based on the Cooperative Congressional Election Study data aggregated to the congressional district level, paired with roll call data from the US House, which allows us to compare the prevailing opinion on a specific issue in a congressional district with the way the representative voted on that same issue. It shows that for the selected very high profile issues that are asked about in the CCES, which are the very type of legislation where we would expect to see the most congruence, Republicans vote on the same side as a majority of their district only 57% of the time. While Democrats do 71% of the time. That imbalance is what we set out to explain, especially because Republicans don’t seem to be electorally punished for their voting records at systematically higher rates.

And if you average the two parties together, only around 65% of roll calls in the House of Representatives on these issues are consistent with district opinion. I first noticed that when I was doing research for another project and I thought, “What in the world is going on here?” Like all Congress scholars, I’ve read Mayhew’s, The Electoral Connection, a thousand times, and it seemed, with good reason, and it seemed like voting against public opinion on one out of every three roll calls on super salient party defining issues was a really high rate of incongruence, which seems like an awfully big liability for people who are supposedly single-minded seekers of reelection.

Matt Grossmann:

They found that Republican voters want ideological representation, Democrats want issue agreement.

Adam Cayton:

We find that people use both their opinions about policy issues and their ideological identities, as either liberals or conservatives, to evaluate the actions of elected officials. This sometimes leads people to want their representatives to take positions that contradict the issue opinions they give on surveys because a lot of voters want their ideological team to win, even if they disagree with it on a specific policy.

Members of the House respond accordingly. Sometimes when they vote against the wishes of their constituents as measured in public opinion polls, they’re still actually delivering what those voters want because the polls aren’t capturing the attitude that voters are using to evaluate a roll call vote.

Like you and David Hopkins find, we find that the two parties behave very differently from one another and that their supporters want different kinds of representation. However, we approach this asymmetry from a slightly different angle. Drawing on copious literature from political psychology, we begin with the observation that ideology is a multidimensional concept that manifests itself along two dimensions, an issue specific dimension that produces policy preferences that can be aligned on the traditional left, right spectrum. And people call this operational ideology or policy ideology. And an identity-based dimension that produces political preferences rooted in attitudes towards ingroups and outgroups, which is often called symbolic ideology. The outgroups in question being liberals and conservatives. Ryan and I show that people use both they’re policy-related and symbolic identity-based preferences when evaluating the kind of representation they receive in Congress.

Republican voters, however, are much more likely to want their ideological team to win, even when it conflicts with their own issue positions than Democrats are. Democrats tend to prefer that representatives support their individual policy preferences issue by issue, even when those contradict the wishes of other liberals and other Democrats. This preference for policy representation holds the Democratic Party together rather than driving it apart because Democrats tend to agree in their support for liberal policies, even when they don’t call themselves liberals. We suspect that even when they don’t call themselves liberals. We suspect that these asymmetries stem from the way political elites from each party manage the ideological diversity in their respective coalitions in order to remain united and maximize the chances of winning elections. People here being voters tend to appreciate it when their representatives cast a roll call vote that they agree with, but they also appreciate it when their representative casts a vote that is congruent with their symbolic ideology, even when they disagree. That is to say, a vote that supports their ideological team.

Matt Grossmann:

Similarly, Democrats in Congress react to voters’ issue attitudes, Republicans, to their ideological labels.

Adam Cayton:

Members of the House behave as if they’re responding to these incentives. District level opinion and district level symbolic ideology, both predict roll call votes, even when they’re included together in a model. This is an important finding because in the representation literature symbolic ideology is often used as a proxy for policy attitudes, and we think that it’s not. We think that since it’s a separate dimension it has an independent effect on the way people evaluate the kind of policy representation they receive.

Matt Grossmann:

That will sound familiar. It builds on longstanding differences between voters, ideological identifications, and issue positions.

Adam Cayton:

But what it boils down to is that people answer survey questions and give their policy opinions, and they also identify as either ideological liberals or conservatives. And it’s really frequent for people to adopt an ideological label that mismatches their stated policy views. So there are a lot of people who identify themselves as conservatives, but on most policy issues they agree with the liberal position, and vice versa.

But it turns out that incongruent conservatives, people who call themselves conservatives but take the liberal position on most issues, are more common by a lot than people who call themselves liberals but actually take conservative positions. So the fact that this operational symbolic disconnect is just the phenomenon that people’s stated policy preferences don’t always match the ideological label they attach to themselves, we think it matters a great deal for understanding representation in Congress because of the stark asymmetry that’s present in the operational symbolic disconnect.

Matt Grossmann:

How [Garrett 00:12:31] tried to put legislators and the public on the same ideological spectrum with both symbolic and operational measures.

Carlos Algara:

One of the classical problems of studying representation is, how do you get the preferences of individual people and their elites in the same common space. Right? Of course, we delegate to our elected representatives to take votes in Congress. Not every citizen has an opinion about a specific roll call. Certainly we don’t have surveys that measure people’s opinions on every single role call, so you can’t try to infer ideological positions doing that. My paper leverages a lot of the new methodology used over the years in political science. And I’m able to create two different measures of citizen preferences, and the preferences of their members of Congress, which constitute political parties, on the same scale.

The way that I do that is, I use the left-right placements that citizens, that survey respondents rather, that they answer on surveys. This is just a simple measure of, you place yourself on a scale from one to seven, one being very liberal, seven being very conservative. Where do you place yourself? These survey respondents are then asked to place their members of Congress and their United States senators, and the president, and the political parties. From there, we’re able to use a method developed by some colleagues at the University of Georgia that allows us to correct for bias in how people look at these ideological perceptions. So of course in the literature we know that liberal is sort of a dirty term here. You know, it’s more desirable to be a moderate.

We’re able to use methods to correct for systematic survey measurement error in how people place themselves and also place different stimuli. Right? So liberals are going to perceive Donald Trump, for example, to be much more conservative, right, than Republicans traditionally. Certainly Republicans will perceive Joe Biden as much more liberal than Democrats will. So this method allows us to estimate ideal points essentially that are relatively unbiased to this sort of measurement error. Another method that I use to measure ideological preferences on the same scale is really building off of Stephen Jessee’s work at the University of Texas, stellar work, that were able to use roll call questions that survey respondents are asked, these are actually roll calls that members of Congress take, to scale them and members of Congress, members of the Senate, on the same scale. Right?

In this measure we’re explicitly relying on policy items. The first measure is relying on these perceptions of left-right placements. In the latter we’re really relying on these policy items. This method allows us to build ideal points based on these roll call measures. And I’m able to overtackle this, the problem that I mentioned earlier, that’s very perverse in this representational literature. And that is, how do you measure people’s ideological preferences in the same ideological space as their members of Congress? These two methods allow me to get empirical leverage on that.

Matt Grossmann:

He finds these measurements of ideology all correlated, and agrees they could be a bit different by party.

Carlos Algara:

The perceptual measures you can make an argument is more symbolic, and scholars do argue that using those perceptual measures is very much symbolic. Of course we know that citizens that describe themselves as very conservative, for example, have in some cases moderate or liberal issue positions. For example, the Affordable Care Act is relatively popular, and a lot of very conservative voters, for example, they don’t support repealing the Affordable Care Act. What my research shows is that if you buy the argument that perceptual placements, placing yourself on the left-right scale, is symbolic, what I find is that the two measures, if you measure ideology and symbolic or operational terms, they’re highly correlated.

They’re correlated at levels of I believe about .6 or .7 or so, so they’re fairly correlated. It’s very hard when you’re studying representation, what’s the difference between symbolic and operational. In that Perspectives on Politics paper, I think it does a really nice job theoretically trying to sort out the differences between symbolic and operational ideology. And I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done here to see if there’s asymmetry in terms of how Democrats perceive representation and how Republicans do. Are Democrats more symbolic and Republicans more operational? I think this piece gives us a really great starting point.

Matt Grossmann:

[Kayden 00:17:52] and [Dawkins 00:17:52] treated the voter differences separately. First they match voters and legislators with their policy positions. Then they match them with ideology and overall policy direction.

Adam Cayton:

A roll call vote on final passage is a policy-making decision. It’s a policy action, and the law is operational by definition. So classifying congruence with operational ideology is easy enough. If people support the position their lawmaker takes on the roll call vote as measured by a policy question, that’s operational congruence. The CCS asked respondents whether they support or oppose policies that receive a roll call vote, and so that lets us do that in a fairly straightforward fashion. For symbolic congruence we asked, “Does a yes vote on the roll call move policy to the right or left, and does the respondent say they are liberal or conservative?” If the bill moves policy to the right, and the respondent identifies as a conservative, then that’s symbolic congruence. But that may not be operational congruence.

Adam Cayton:

For example, there are a lot of self-identified conservatives who support increasing the minimum wage. I’m speaking to you from Florida, a state that simultaneously gave its Electoral College votes to Donald Trump and elects Republicans, but also approved a constitutional amendment with over a 60-vote margin, increasing the minimum wage. So take a conservative who calls themselves a conservative, and supports increasing the minimum wage. If their representative votes against a minimum wage increase, that would be a symbolically congruent vote because their representative took the conservative position, but it would be operationally incongruent because it contradicts the stated preference of that voter. So our theory hinges on which vote those people want when they can’t have it both ways.

Matt Grossmann:

Symbolic representation is still representation they say, and Republican voters like it that way,

Adam Cayton:

The best evidence that it is representation is that Republican voters seem to want this kind of representation. They approve of representatives who cast conservative votes, even when they disagree with those votes, and Republicans seem to disagree with those votes. And Republicans seem to have a pretty good electoral record by making symbolic appeals to the ideological team as opposed to policy details. Now, if somebody prefers policy representation, they might think that that’s not good representation. And indeed it may not be good representation by some measures. But the evidence would simply be that Republican voters, they seem to like it, it seems to work. And so if the goal is to do things that help you win reelection, the Republican strategy is accomplishing that.

Matt Grossmann:

Kayden says that means both parties face risks in representation.

Adam Cayton:

In pursuing these complimentary strategies, one, the Democratic strategy is to pursue popular policies and the Republican strategy is to appeal to the most popular symbolic identity. And both parties are pursuing a strategy that makes sense in terms of holding their own coalitions together. And both strategies come with a risk. So I think it’s entirely possible that if not likely, that policies that poll well will become unpopular due to a backlash because a lot of people who express support for the content of those policies will also be susceptible to appeals framed in terms of symbolic ideology, symbolic conservatism, and opposing liberal overreach or something like that. Republicans are also taking a political risk as well in that they are making a symbolic appeal against policies that poll well. And you could imagine this strategy working for either party or backfiring for either party.

But they’re both, I think, playing to their strengths and what holds their coalition together. Democratic voters do not share a common symbolic ideology. A lot of them call themselves conservatives and moderates. So Democrats downplay that and just talk about the policies that poll well, but they leave themselves open to that valence critique or that wedge critique, rather, of liberal overreach. And Republicans on the other hand, double down on the fact that these policies aren’t conservative, which resonates with most of the electorate and might peel off support from people who kind of like the content of the policy. So I don’t know which way it’ll go, but I can see the risk and reward for both parties.

Matt Grossmann:

[inaudible 00:22:25] says that means Democrats could do worse with the public if they move policy or the agenda left ward.

Carlos Algara:

If the congressional Democratic majority pushes policies that are out of step with what the public wants, certainly what the media and member of the public wants, you’re going to lower congressional approval. And with that comes electoral ramifications. And this is potentially damaging in the House of Representatives where Democrats have about a six seat majority and five seat now due to a vacancy, I believe, in Florida. But it’s a very narrow majority and the Republicans are very well positioned. Looking at the Senate, Democrats have a little bit more insulation because there’s maybe a little bit less seats being targeted. There are no Democrats, for example, up in seats that… in states, rather, that Donald Trump carried. They have Georgia and Arizona, which were very narrow. But this research suggests that if Democrats go too far to the left in terms of advocating their agenda, they’re going to drive up congressional disapproval. And that can be very damaging as they look towards 2022 and as they look to hold their congressional majorities. And if the Republicans gained control, as we saw with President Obama, at that point it becomes very hard to governs.

Matt Grossmann:

And it matters for elections as well. Voters react negatively when electives move things too far to their side.

Carlos Algara:

I create a time series of the congressional generic ballot. This was just given at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference. And what I find is that if the public mood is out of step with what Congress is delivering, there is a cost to pay, right? So the skeptics that are saying, well the Republicans, they push these unpopular policies. One can simply point to 2018 as sort of the system working as it should. And this is very consistent with the thermostatic model of public opinion, right? That elected elites, Congress, the House, the Senate and the president, what have you, they could go too far in one direction. And then the Congress sort of… the public, rather, acts like a thermostat. I think that’s very consistent.

I do think that parties are sort of cross pressured where they have their political base that they have to be responsive to and the general public. And sometimes those two preferences, those two demands of representation collide. A perfect example of that could be certain aspects of immigration reform where border security is relatively popular and broad sort of, quote, unquote, amnesty is not. It could also be on some aspects of the Green New Deal and the carbon tax. So majorities are very much cross pressured. And I think that’s why they place a premium so much on party leaders to sort of insulate them from taking tough votes that really articulate this cross pressures to the public. But I think to the overall point, this is a system. My work fits in very nicely with just the general model.

That if parties overstep in terms of what the public wants, that there’s going to be some sort of tangible costs to that. In this case, it’s congressional approval. And if the cost becomes too much it could be enough of an effect to cost them the majority. And so I think Democrats have to be very careful in terms of what they’re pursuing, in terms of what they’re voting on and in terms of where the public perceives the Democratic majority to be in the ideological space.

Matt Grossmann:

Kayden agrees that Democrats may not get the full credit for popular policies they’re passing now. They still face risks from their symbolic disconnect.

Adam Cayton:

Our findings wouldn’t discount the possibility of overreach. I mean, in fact, maybe if Democrats win on policy, that sets the stage for the conservative identifiers in the party to respond to symbolic appeals. And when Republicans win on policy, it sets the stage for operational liberals who will call themselves conservatives to be won over by the Democratic party. So the findings of overreach could potentially take that form if you account for both dimensions of ideology.

Matt Grossmann:

But don’t voters react to the president rather than Congress? [inaudible 00:27:11] says there’s still room for congressional judgment.

Carlos Algara:

There’s been so much great work in political science recently about the relationship between the president and the Congress and the electoral implications of that. Of course, we’ve had colleagues find that now presidential approval is very much indogenous to partisanship, right? If you looked at Donald Trump’s approval rating throughout the course of his presidency, the standard deviation of his approval, I believe, was the lowest in the modern era. And part of that is because Republicans just overwhelmingly approved of him and he had consistent support amongst Republicans. I think that’s true. I do think that partisans on both sides approve of their president overwhelmingly, and those attitudes are stable over time. And that’s really what’s defining electoral competition. My retort to that is congressional approval is not indogenous to partisanship. That citizens are really forming independent evaluations of congressional job performance.

If you look at the approval rating of party leaders, right? If you look at Mitch McConnell relative to Donald Trump, approval of McConnell amongst Republicans is not indogenous, right? I feel that some questions on the 2020 CES and Mitch McConnell’s approval rating was about 31% or so. And Donald Trump’s approval rating in that dataset, in my module was about 40, 41%. So we do see that Republicans really liked Donald Trump. But even co-partisan leaders of their party, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, are relatively less popular. So this is to say that re-partisans, while presidential approval is indogenous to partisanship, congressional approval is not, right? And so we’re able to see, I think, theoretically in our electoral models a significant relationship between congressional approval and partisan electoral choice just due to the fact that it’s not completely indogenous to partisanship.

And I do think that’s one thing looking at standing models of electoral choice and why it’s becoming so hard to put partisanship and presidential approval in the same model is that they’re both highly correlated with one another in terms of partisanship. But I do think that the president plays a large role, obviously, in the electoral dynamics here, obviously, as a leader of the party. But in this era of collective responsibility, right? It’s very much a party driven story, right? Donald Trump, certainly in his first two-

Donald Trump certainly in his first two years relied heavily on Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to develop the agenda, right? Joe Biden has a little bit more experience, but of course he’s negotiating with Chuck Schumer. He is negotiating with speaker Pelosi. He is negotiating with Joe Manchin, who’s a pivotal member in the Senate. He’s negotiating with co partisans. And so I do believe that the president very much plays a role here, but I also think that the policy program developed by the parties with the president negotiating with his co partisans in Congress also plays a large role, and I think that’s what congressional approval is really capturing.

Matt Grossmann:

Citizens do follow elites, but elites are still more extreme than their voters.

Carlos Algara:

I do believe that on individual policy positions, so for example, the minimum wage, for example, certain environmental issues, that partisans really do follow the leader, right? They do switch. They’re certainly not switching their partisan preferences. They’re switching their individual issue positions. If you look at all this scaling work, it’s almost a consistent finding that members of Congress are certainly more extreme than the general public.

So every time you overcome the methodological hurdle where you’re trying to measure citizen and elite preferences in the same space, a consistent finding is that members of Congress are always, always more extreme than the districts they represent. And they’re almost always more extreme than the median partisans in their districts that they represent. So I do think there’s a lot of following the leader, no pun intended, party trumping ideology. If I can use the verbiage of that great paper on individual issue positions.

But I do think that generally voters are able to make independent assessments about policy. So for example, within the Republican party, you do see a healthy degree of variation and what to do about the Affordable Care Act. Of course, most Republicans today follow the party line and they would advocate repealing the Affordable Care Act. But you know, a lot of them don’t support that. And a lot of them take positions that would strengthen the Affordable Care Act in more liberal direction,

Matt Grossmann:

Kaiten agrees that it’s hard to separate presidential influence from other factors.

Adam Cayton:

I’m not sure that we could say one way or the other based on our findings that voters are following cues from the president or following cues from other sources like the media, like other opinion leaders or other leaders in the party. I mean, I would certainly think the president would be really important. What we show is that voters in each party use different criteria to evaluate those positions. Rather whether they’re taking cues from the president or from someone else. And that when Democrats think about these policy positions, whether they’re being teed up by the president or someone else, they think more in terms of policy they agree with and policy appeals, while Republicans are thinking more in terms of the symbolic nature. Is the policy conservative, would the bill constitute a conservative win or a conservative loss?

One of the things we want to investigate is where exactly this asymmetry comes from. Is it something that’s a product of elite cues, which we think is entirely possible, or is it not? And of course the president would be front and center of elites who would be giving cues.

Matt Grossmann:

O’Gara spent time working in the Senate. He says voters don’t distinguish between the house and the Senate unless the parties split the chambers.

Carlos Algara:

Do a follow-up project to this political behavior piece is trying to measure not only institutional approval for both chambers independently, right? So asking people do you approve of the house or the Senate, but also asking them, how do you feel about the political parties within the house and the Senate? Are they able to draw distinctions for example, between Senate Democrats, which is a more moderate caucus than house Democrats by definition, because senators represent states and states are more diverse ideologically than districts.

I don’t think that individual voters are responding to the chambers differently under unified control. I think today voters have a sense that the Democrats are in control and they don’t really have a distinction between the democratic house or the democratic Senate. My work shows that during split congresses like the Congress you had going into the 2012 election after the 2010 tea party wave, that they’re able to draw these distinctions and that when they’re thinking about quote unquote, Congress, they’re thinking about the house of representatives. So the Democrats had control of the Senate and the Republicans had control of the house. When they’re really thinking about Congress, they’re thinking about the house. And so the closer you are to congressional Democrats, the less likely you are to approve of Congress in 2012, right? Because the Republicans captured the house of Representatives.

Matt Grossmann:

Senators erroneously think voters care about the rules, but they do know they have limited time.

Carlos Algara:

When I was in the Senate and working for a Senator, I spent a lot of time thinking about the rules of Senate, specifically ways to reform the filibuster, which is very salient today given the democratic majority made by the two victories in Georgia. I spent a lot of time thinking about that. And Senators spend a lot of time thinking about it too, particularly within the majority caucus, because they want to get things done. Obviously the average citizen is not thinking about what happens if you lower the threshold from 60 to 55 or what happens if you get rid of it altogether? And I don’t know that senators are cognizant of that.

What I do think that senators are cognizant of is the fact that majorities are short-lived, the fact that majorities are very narrow these days and the fact that you need agreement and the fact that you only have one shot to get things done. I do think senators understand that if they don’t provide representation, that there’s going to be electoral ramifications. And I was there during the Cares Act, for example. There was a lot of bipartisanship in that regard, a lot of negotiations.

And I think both political parties understand that ultimately you have to be responsive to what the public wants or else you’re going to suffer consequences. They don’t read all the fancy, you know, political science and all the innovative, theoretical models and formal models about it. But I think the general sense is they understand that they were elected to, to Washington to get stuff done, and if they don’t that you’re going to potentially suffer the consequences. And if you’re in the minority like I was, you also understand that there’s not much you can get done. So if you have an opportunity to negotiate with the other party to get something that you want through, you should take that. It’s very much a different world up there.

Matt Grossmann:

Kaiten says their work helps to explain why Democrats wanted more shared policy wins under Trump than Republicans want under Biden.

Adam Cayton:

Our impression is that Republicans are more invested in obtaining political wins for their symbolic ideological group than Democrats are, which means they are more willing to engage in obstructionism from the minority for the sake of future electoral victory and appealing to voters. But the Democrats, because they’re more committed to policy outcomes than symbolic wins, they might be more willing to horse trade to get some symbolic wins because their voters are more focused on, whether it’s through elite cues or another mechanism, are more focused on policy outcomes or policy conflict than being able to say they blocked a bill that was supported by a Republican president.

Matt Grossmann:

There’s a lot more to learn. The science of politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen center and part of the democracy group network. I’m your host, Matt Grossman. Thanks to Carlos O’Gara and Adam Kaiten for joining me. Please check out congressional approval and responsible party government and incongruent voting or symbolic representation and then listen in next time.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

The post How Voters Judge Congress appeared first on Niskanen Center.